WOMEN@WORK

Maine’s entrepreneurs need help beyond the first few years

Posted Nov. 22, 2013, at 12:15 p.m.
Gigi Guyton
Gigi Guyton

Since the day Nancy Strjony became chairwoman of the Portland Chapter of SCORE in 2010, her mantra has been, “We are all part of the same microenterprise ecosystem in Maine.”

In other words: The resources are here, entrepreneurs will find the right fit, and organizations in the profession of helping small businesses need not compete.

We’re all in this together.

The network of resources has grown over the past several years, and while the guidance available is even more attentive, it still may need more oomph to better serve businesses that are already off the ground.

“We have begun to create the needed culture of inquiry and creative exploration,” says Sandra Stone, chairwoman of Maine Angels, referring to programs such as Build-A-Biz, a Maine youth entrepreneurial education initiative; and Startup Weekend Portland, Maine.

However, Stone says, “There needs to be even more avenues to identify and train or attract the missing business skills in startup companies, and help determine the appropriate business model for greatest potential market traction.”

She refers to the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun Prep and Top Gun programs that began in 2009.

Mary Allen Lindemann, co-owner of Coffee By Design, concurs. Lindemann and her husband, Alan Spear, are now entering their 20th year of business and this month will expand into a warehouse they purchased in Portland’s East Bayside. She says to find just the right support at the right time hasn’t always been easy, especially once their business exceeded the five- and 10-year marks.

“Everyone assumes you have it figured out or that you’re flush with cash and can hire a consultant,” Lindemann says. “We don’t always have the money for a consultant.”

Once past the startup phase, Lindemann reached out to SCORE and other business professionals for insight into how to manage growth. In looking for her own support network, she became a founding member of Women Standing Together, a community for women leaders and entrepreneurs which holds regular roundtable brainstorming entrepreneurship luncheons and brown-bag leadership luncheons. She then began to rely on Maine Businesses for Sustainability, and today, she has found a home at Envision Maine, a nonprofit organization that started in 2009.

“As people and as businesses, we’re all a work in progress and we all need support,” she said.

Sarah Guerette of CEI’s Women’s Business Center in Portland says in working with her clients, she is reminded that some startups lack the opportunity to think critically and creatively about growing their businesses.

“They found it hard to get past cheerleading friends and family members, and really dive into the nitty gritty logistics. This reminded me that starting and running a business can be incredibly isolating.”

Don Gooding, executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, agrees.

“It’s even more so here in Maine where businesses, including startups, are so spread out,” Gooding said. “It makes sense to thoughtfully connect business pioneers regularly with both productive meetings and social outlets. Whether it’s PubHub in Portland or Big Gig in Bangor, all of these venues try to find that balance.”

Mandy Schumaker, chairwoman of the Portland Chapter of the Maine Women’s Network and owner of coaching business Higher Performing People, says, “It’s so important for the economy in Maine to have all these things available to entrepreneurs, and it’s important we all work together to get the word out about the vast amount of resources available to everyone who wants to start or owns their own business.”

Stone sees all of the pieces — curriculum, support, showcase events, funding opportunities — as critical to maintaining the ecosystem.

“As we continue to create our own Maine brand and innovation culture, we may yet attract some of the innovators from away, and retain our own aspiring entrepreneurs to take advantage of all the additional benefits of living in our state.”

Gigi Guyton is microenterprise specialist for Women, Work, and Community covering Cumberland and York counties. Her office is in South Portland. She can be reached at 799-5025 or by email at gigi.guyton@maine.edu.

 

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